Portland restaurateurs tell mayor not to raise minimum wage

Portland restaurant owners told Mayor Michael Brennan on Wednesday night not to meddle with their payment system for tipped servers as part of his plan to increase the citywide minimum wage.

Restaurant owners argued customer tips make waiters and waitresses some of the highest paid people in their industry — despite their lower allowable hourly wages — and having to pay them more would simply hike up payroll expenses for many food service businesses barely making ends meet.

But others in attendance at a public hearing Wednesday night countered that the city should force all employers to offer no less than $15 per hour to their workers, regardless of the line of work.

At one point in the hearing, which attracted a crowd of nearly 90, attendees erupted into a cacophonous argument over wages before Brennan regained control of the setting.

“If the minimum wage had kept pace with worker productivity, the minimum wage would be $22 per hour today,” said Asher Platts, chairman of the Maine Green Independent Party and a state Senate candidate. “So where is all that extra value? … Wall Street holdings are the highest they’ve been in decades. This isn’t a recession; this is a robbery.”

Brennan’s tentative plan, devised over several meetings this year with his minimum wage advisory committee, is to increase the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by Jan. 1. The mayor then wants to see the baseline wage incrementally raised to $10.68 per hour by Jan. 1, 2017, then tie the wage to annual increases in inflation after that point.

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